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Injured patient left in urine-soaked bed sheets and labelled ‘lazy’ by nurses after botched surgery

Hospital commits to publishing details of secret review by Royal College of Surgeons after three patients harmed in one week

Shaun Lintern
Health Correspondent
Sunday 30 May 2021 14:04 BST
Injured patient left in urine-soaked bed sheets and labelled ‘lazy’ by nurses after botched surgery
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A second “mutilated” patient left with life-changing injuries after botched hospital surgery has described how she was left in urine-soaked bed sheets for days by nurses who called her lazy when she was unable to get out of bed.

Lucy Wilson told The Independent she believes she would have been better looked after at a veterinary practice compared to the level of care she received from nurses at Norfolk and Norwich Hospital Trust in January last year.

She was one of three patients harmed by surgeon Camilo Valero in the same week and almost died after Dr Valero and other staff failed to recognise her life-threatening injuries following the operation to remove her gall bladder.

Dr Valero is under investigation by the General Medical Council but is still practising under supervision at the trust, which has refused to say whether the third patient survived their ordeal.

After requests by The Independent, bosses at the NHS trust have now committed to publishing details of a secret review carried out by the Royal College of Surgeons into Dr Valero’s work and the wider surgical services at the trust.

In April, The Independent reported the case of Paul Tooth, an RAF veteran, who was operated on by Dr Valero just days after Ms Wilson. He has been left permanently disabled with tubes going in and out of his body which he relies on to continually recycle bile produced by his liver.

It was after seeing that article that Ms Wilson and Mr Tooth made contact with each other and are now supporting each other as they seek answers from the NHS.

For Ms Wilson, a mum of two, her experiences on the wards at the Norfolk hospital have left her physically and mentally scarred. She is receiving therapy for post-traumatic stress disorder.

“I have completely lost confidence in the hospital. I won’t go back there. I have a lot of night terrors and flashbacks and I see Dr Valero everywhere I go. He is always there.”

Ms Wilson was admitted in January 2020 for emergency surgery to remove her gall bladder. During surgery, Dr Valero caused severe damage to her liver and connections to her intestines, removing the gall bladder but also the entire bile duct.

Although a bile duct injury is a recognised complication in 1 per cent of gall bladder operations, Dr Valero injured three patients in a matter of days and the alarm was only raised by clinicians at Addenbrookes Hospital in Cambridge after the patients were transferred there for life-saving surgery.

Within days of being admitted to the ward after surgery, Ms Wilson began to deteriorate and was violently sick and unable to move.

“I couldn't get out of bed and the nurses were saying ‘You're just being lazy. You're just making yourself worse’. They were absolutely horrific to me. The whole time I felt like I would have probably been better at a vets.

“I was sitting in my own urine, sometimes for days. I was vomiting constantly. They weren't helping me to get washed or anything, but they put in my notes that I was refusing to be washed.

“They did silly little things like knowing that I couldn't get out of bed but wanting me to, they would leave my table out of arm's reach. I couldn't reach my phone, I couldn't reach my water.”

She described how a cleaner helped her to drink on one occasion saying: “That was the only single piece of kindness that I had through my entire stay. The hospital refuse to tell me who she was but I would love to say thank you.”

In one incident after one of her drains was left to burst because it had not been emptied during the night, Lucy told a doctor it had not been emptied and an agency nurse later accused her of “grassing” on her. Ms Wilson and her husband Paul lodged a formal complaint and they didn’t see the nurse again.

She added: “Another nurse was made to apologise at my bedside because she called me ‘bloody lazy’ because I wasn’t getting up. She was made to say sorry to me at my bedside, but not until I was being transferred to Addenbrookes hospital. I think by this time, they'd realised how sick I was, and how they had missed it all.”

The alarm was finally raised after her sister-in-law, a palliative care nurse, visited and recognised how severely ill she was. She insisted on a doctor being called and an MRI scan was hastily arranged that showed Ms Wilson had suffered serious injuries.

She was transferred as an emergency to Addenbrookes Hospital where surgeons operated for more than 11 hours to repair the damage and save her life.

They had to use 21 litres of saline to wash out 4.5 litres of corrosive bile that had collected in her abdomen.

In contrast to Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital, Ms Wilson praised the care of nurses at Addenbrookes Hospital, saying: “Every single nurse I came across there, every single one, it was like they were made to be a nurse.”

While the repair surgery has left her in a better condition than Mr Tooth, she is facing more surgery and has been left incontinent and weak. She struggles to walk or lift anything.

“I literally can’t do anything that a normal person is able to do. I can't shower myself, my husband had to build a special seat to go over our bath so I can sit down. He has to help me wash my hair. If I didn't have my children, I would have killed myself because I’m such a burden on everyone around me.

“This has utterly destroyed my life.”

She has now launched a petition on the Parliament website demanding a change in the law that would require clinicians to report serious incidents. Dr Valero did not report the injuries to the three patients and the hospital was unaware of the incidents until clinicians at Addenbrookes Hospital raised the alarm.

“There is no law requiring them to report incidents. It’s a moral code but that’s just not enough.”

The Norfolk and Norwich Hospital Trust has admitted liability and apologised for the standards of care both during and after her operation.

Since the Royal College of Surgeons review, the trust said it had enhanced training and supervision of Dr Valero and changed surgical processes with a monthly audit of gall bladder surgery outcomes.

A spokesman confirmed to The Independent that details of the RCS review would be published in due course.

Medical director Erika Denton said: “We offer our continued apologies to Ms Wilson for the serious injury and complications she experienced during her surgery last year. Our surgical and nursing colleagues have also met with Ms Wilson to apologise and we are happy to answer any further questions or concerns she has.

“We have fully investigated what happened and changed and strengthened our surgery processes to ensure that this will not happen again.”

If you are experiencing feelings of distress and isolation, or are struggling to cope, The Samaritans offers support; you can speak to someone for free over the phone, in confidence, on 116 123 (UK and ROI), email, or visit the Samaritans website to find details of your nearest branch.

For services local to you, the national mental health database – Hub of Hope – allows you to enter your postcode to search for organisations and charities who offer mental health advice and support in your area.

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